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Climbing (Coastal Areas)

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

9. What discussions he has had with the British Mountaineering Council on access to coastal areas for climbers. (210310)

We have held a number of discussions with the British Mountaineering Council on access to coastal areas for climbers. We issued a draft Marine Bill in April which includes provisions to improve public access to the English coast.

The Minister will be aware that Britain is one of the world centres for sea cliff climbing, with England alone having more sea cliff climbing than the entirety of the east and west coasts of the United States. Does the Minister agree that the way in which the British Mountaineering Council has managed wildlife restrictions over the past 40 years, in co-operation with conservation bodies, has worked well and is working well?

I am aware of the code of practice of the British Mountaineering Council, which ensures that its members are aware of nature conservation. It is important that we preserve sensitive and fragile biodiversity systems which are commonplace around our coast. The British Mountaineering Council is ambitious about increasing the opportunities to climb, and there will be more when the draft Marine Bill comes into being. We want to strike a balance between people’s access to climb cliffs and the preservation of important and sensitive nature conservation areas.

Under his brief of access to coastal areas the Minister is responsible for the “Discovering Lost Ways” project. As he knows, a number of pilot schemes are under way, which are getting seriously bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape. Can he explain to the House what has gone wrong and how he will sort it out?

There was not a great deal of discovery of those ways, to put it bluntly, so we have stopped that project. We will bring together all the relevant stakeholders to see where we go from here. The concern has been that the lost ways will be scrapped under the 25-year rule. We will not do that until we consider them properly; they are important bridleways and routes of access through our countryside. We will bring together the relevant stakeholders, and work with our agents, Natural England, to find a way forward to discover the right way.